“It is not by might or violence, therefore, that Christ rules in the kingdom given Him by the Father…His entire prophetic, priestly, and kingly activity He continues to carry on in a spiritual way from His place in heaven. He fights with only spiritual weapons. He is a king of grace and a king of might, but in both kinds He leads His regiment out through the Holy Spirit…By the Spirit Christ gives of Himself and His benefits to the church…By the Spirit Christ instructs, comforts, and leads His church, and dwells in it. And by the same Spirit He convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. The eternal victory which Christ will gain over all His enemies will be a triumph of the Holy Spirit.”
That was a quote from the theologian Herman Bavinck. And I particularly love this quote because it shows us how Christianity does not exist in mere words or doctrines about God. Don’t hear me wrong, there are many doctrines containing many words about God in the Christian faith that we should be concerned to get right. But we should not miss that if we go about our ‘Christianity’ ignoring, avoiding, or sidestepping the leading of the Holy Spirit, it isn’t Christianity we’re living out. You see, the Christianity Christ taught us was one where He would leave, ascend to heaven, and send His Spirit to lead us until the moment He returns. So Church, I ask you today, are you ‘led by the Spirit?’ What does that mean? What does that look like? These things and more is what’s before us today.
I said it last week, and I’ll say it again this week…remember where we are. We’re in the robust middle portion of Romans 8 where Paul unfolds the nature and work of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:5-17. The foundations were laid in v5-11 where Christians are defined as those who are not of the flesh but of the Spirit. Meaning, we don’t live according to the flesh, we don’t set our minds on the flesh, and we’re no longer ruled by the things of the flesh, no. We set our minds on and live according to the Spirit. The Spirit who comes forth from both the Father and the Son, who has filled us, who is growing us in His resurrection life and might, and who will keep us to the end. And on that final day the Spirit’s work within us will be complete the result will be nothing short of total transformation. All of us, soul and body, will be made new. That’s the foundation laid in v5-11.
We then looked at what this leads to in day to day life in v12-13 and found that if the Spirit is truly in us, we’ll be putting sin to death by the Spirit. While we should not soften this violent warlike posture commanded of us in v12-13 we must remember that we kill sin not to be justified but because we’ve already been justified. In other words, putting sin to death by the Spirit doesn’t save us, rather, putting sin to death is the evidence that we’ve been truly saved by God. Or we could say, our wartime mindset where we seek to slay sin by the Spirit is now possible only because Romans 8:1 is already true of us, “There is therefore now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” With us now living in that reality because of the gospel of grace, we’re free to slay sin as we ought.
That’s where we’ve been, in v5-13. Today as we move onto v14-17 Paul tells us more about the Spirit. Specifically he gives us more realities or characteristics that will be true of us if the Spirit is indeed in us. First in v14, we’ll be led by the Spirit. Second in v15, we’ll have a childlike intimacy with the Father rather than a slavish fear. Third in v16, the Spirit bears witness in us. Fourth in v17, because of the Spirit’s work we know we’re heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ also. And fifth also in v17, because the Spirit’s work in doing all of this we should expect to suffer with Christ, while we eagerly look forward to being glorified with Christ.
But, even though Paul’s continuing on about the Spirit here in v14-17, do you notice that he is also introducing a new theme as well? Sonship, the truth that we are the children of God abounds in these verses as well. We should notice this. Much has been said about us in Romans so far, about who we are, who we once were outside of Christ and who we are now in Christ, but for the first time in all of Romans in these verses we’re called the sons of God. It’s in every verse. In v14, all who are led by the Spirit are sons of God. In v15, because of the Spirit of adoption we’re now intimately connected to the Father. In v16, the Spirit bears witness, with a kind of inner persuasion, that we’re indeed the children of God. And in v17, if we’re children of God we’re also heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.
So we’ve got two themes present here before us. The work of the Holy Spirit within us and our sonship, us being the children of God. That these two themes are woven together in v14-17 should show us that instead of seeing these two themes as separate realities, we should see them as united. So, when the Holy Spirit is working within us in His resurrection might, many things will happen to us and within us. One of the things that will happen is that we’ll come to know and enjoy the truth that we are the children of God.
I hope you can see, there’s a lot to unpack here. So, Lord willing, we’ll be spending the next two weeks in v14-17 to work through it. Let’s begin this week by taking up our magnifying glass to examine and unpack v14 and then step back next week to look at v14-17 as a whole.
Romans 8:14, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
Notice how v14 begins, “For…” We’ve seen this many times in Paul up to this point and we’re going to be seeing it again many times after this point. Now, this word ‘for’ doesn’t mean that Paul’s beginning a brand new argument that’s entirely unrelated to what he’s been telling us. Not at all. We know that. Instead, this word means Paul is continuing to pull on the same thread he’s been pulling on for a while now. What this word ‘for’ does show us is that Paul is now taking this argument a step further than he’s taken it so far. Or let’s just be really simple and say it like this. Another way we could translate ‘for’ is ‘because.’ See that in v12-14 now, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live…because all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
See how it all connects as one unified whole? v14 is then the basis for v12-13. Which means two things. First, it means those who are led by the Spirit of God will be those who put their sin to death by the Spirit of God. Second, it means the evidence that we are the children of God is whether or not we kill our sin. Or, think of like this. The language in v13, of our putting sin to death is active language, it’s something we must do. Right? The language of v14, of us being led by the Spirit is passive language, it’s something done to us. This means what the Spirit does to us and what we do are complementary. Our activity in putting sin to death is evidence of the Spirit’s activity in us. That’s true, but we can also say the Spirit’s activity in us is the cause of our activity against sin. This, according to Paul in Romans 8, is what it means to be led by the Spirit.
So, this first heading today is simply intended to show that v14 is a continuation of what Paul has already been telling us in Romans 8. But let’s now lean into this a bit more with our next heading…
“Led By the Spirit”
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” I didn’t grow up in the Church, but when God saved me when I was 20 year old and I did come into the Church it didn’t take long to realize that Christians have a certain way of talking about things I didn’t know. Call it ‘Christianese’ or Christian jargon, or whatever you like, I found it quite interesting that people spoke like this. You know these things: when I would travel home for a holiday or a break people at church would say they would pray for ‘a ‘hedge of protection’ and I would wonder, ‘Why just a hedge? Could you pray for something a bit more sturdy? When people at church would talk about their Bible reading time they’d refer to it as their ‘quiet time’ and I would wonder, ‘I need quiet every now and then too, is that what you mean?’ And when a someone stopped showing up on Sunday’s I’d hear people say he or she was ‘backsliding’ and I think when I heard that the first time I just asked, ‘What does that mean?’
Whether it’s one of these sayings or a thousand others, Christian lingo can be dangerous because over time the lingo itself can come to define what we believe and how we live rather than Scripture. You know one of the most famous statements in all of Christianese? ‘Led by the Spirit.’ I’m sure you’ve heard this before. I’m sure many of you have said some of these things before. ‘I’m just feeling so led by the Spirit right now’, or ‘I really need to be led by the Spirit on this’, or ‘We’re you led by the Spirit in that decision?’, or even ‘I don’t think that’s very Spirit-led.’ What’s usually meant when someone uses this phrase is that they feel they have been guided or directed by the Holy Spirit to go here or there, to take this job and not that job, or to make this life decision rather than that one. As if concrete directions can be received from God by the Holy Spirit in all matters of life. Don’t hear me wrong, I do think there is truth to these ideas, and that we do and should look to the Holy Spirit for guidance in all of life. My concern, is that the way we talk about the Holy Spirit Himself as a Person, and the way we talk about how the Holy Spirit leads us and guides us far too often sounds like fortune telling or crystal ball gazing and gives the impression that the Holy Spirit is a kind of genie. This is mysticism, and we should call it what it is. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially when it comes to how the Holy Spirit is described to us here in Romans 8.
So see it. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Very simply, v14 means Christians are those who are led by the Spirit of God. If Paul had said, ‘For all who have been baptized are sons of God’ we might be content for the majority of us here have done that. If Paul had said, ‘For all who partake of the Lord’s Supper are sons of God’ we might rest easy because we come to the table the first Sunday of each month. If Paul had said, ‘For all who are members of the church are sons of God’ we might also take ease knowing that church membership is alive and well here at SonRise. But hear it Church, Paul doesn’t say these things or anything like it. Rather he says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Which implies the opposite, ‘For all who are not led by the Spirit are not sons of God.’ Which leads to examination, a looking in the mirror, doesn’t it? ‘Is this true of me?’ ‘Am I led by the Spirit?’ ‘Or am I led by something else?’ Again v14 is very simple, Christians are those who are led the Spirit of God. This is true, wonderfully true! But is this all we can say about v14? Not at all! As encouraging as this is, we can go further. So we shall.
I hope you didn’t bring a rake with you today but brought a shovel. You see many times we’re content to just rake around the Scripture as we read it and study it. And by raking around we truly are interacting with Scripture at some level, but we’re just really moving leaves into a pile or moving leaves from one pile over to another pile. A shovel does more! A shovel breaks the surface and goes down deep. A shovel digs up earth and uncovers what lies beneath. It takes more effort to dig, but when you dig, you might find gold! So, let’s dig into v14 shall we?
There’s something being hinted at here that’s rooted in the experience of OT Israel, for those who have ears to hear. Do you hear it? You see, as Paul pens these letters he doesn’t just pick words randomly. No, he’s very purposeful in each word he writes. Think about Paul. Being raised as a Jew and then growing up to become a Pharisee he would’ve very likely had the entire OT memorized. His whole worldview would’ve been interpreted through the lens of the OT Scriptures. But when he met Jesus on the Damascus road everything changed for him. The OT he had committed to memory became an entirely different book aiming at an entirely different purpose. All of sudden he knew these Scriptures were not just about the Israelites, of their beginnings and history, but more. Slowly but surely he began to see that in the OT there are patterns, purposes, people even, who seem to preview or foreshadow greater patterns, purposes, and people. That there’s a forward lean to the OT that all seems to find its apex in the Person of Jesus Christ. So Paul says in 2 Cor. 1:20, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him.” And we see Paul preaching like this too. In Acts 28:23 it says Paul testified to the kingdom of God trying to convince his hearers “…about Jesus from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.”
So as he’s writing Romans, being carried along by the Divine Author, the Holy Spirit, Paul very often uses the imagery and language of the OT in the NT. v14 is one example of this. He uses words here that are also used in Exodus and Deuteronomy to describe how God led His people through the wilderness. God often spoke of how He has led (Deut. 8:15) His firstborn son (Ex. 4:22) Israel through the wilderness to their inheritance, so it’s not surprising to hear Paul describes us in the exact same way…as us being those who are led, as us being the sons of God, and as us being heirs of God. Paul uses all these themes here in v14 to describe us. Now, here’s where the rubber meets the road. If this is indeed what Paul is hinting at by using this language, and I think he is, what does it mean for us? It means that just as God led Israel with His very presence through the barrenness and trials of the wilderness to the promise land, so now God is leading His Church by His Spirit through the trials of this fallen world to our inheritance in glory. This is what it means to be led by the Spirit.
Which leads to massive implications. If the OT Israelite experience of wandering through the wilderness and arriving at the promise land is in rooting all of what we see here in v14, that experience then, should fill out what it means to be led by the Spirit for us now. So…how was Israel led by God’s very presence through the wilderness? As Israel enjoyed God’s very presence with them by day and night through the wilderness, so too the Church enjoys God’s very presence by the Spirit through this fallen world. As Israel was provided for in the wilderness with exactly what they needed day by day, so too the Church will be provided for in this fallen world with exactly what we need day by day as we walk in step with the Spirit. And as Israel was marked out as God’s chosen and beloved people by His presence going with them and leading them through the wilderness, so too the Church is marked out as the children of God by God’s Spirit leading us through this fallen world.
This is then where Paul goes next in v14.
Conclusion: “Sons of God”
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Who are the sons of God? Those who are led by the Spirit of God. What does this look like in our day to day life? That’s where Paul goes next in v15-17.
So having covered the foundation of all of this in v14, we’re primed to explore v15-17 next week as we come back together.
 Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God (Glenside, Pennsylvania: Westminster Seminary Press, 2019) 369.
 John Piper, The Spirit-Led Are the Sons of God (accessed via Accordance Bible Software, 5.20.21).
 John Murray, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 295.
 R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 261.
 Charles Spurgeon, The Leading of the Spirit, the Secret Token of the Sons of God (accessed via Accordance Bible Software, 5.21.21).
 Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 521.